by Kathleen Pulek, Middletown Chronicle, July, 2014
Click HERE for the full gallery of images from this event.
Middletown came alive with the sites and sounds of four-wheel fever as throngs of car aficionados packed Main Street from Washington down to the South Green to ogle and appreciate the many hot rods and custom cars that packed the center of town.
There was something for everyone on Wednesday, June 11, at the 17th Annual Cruise Night on Main, co-sponsored by the city of Middletown and the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce. The vast array of trucks, muscle cars, antiques, domestics, imports and rat rods numbered more than 550 and vehicle owners gladly answered questions and discussed the loving restorations made to their prized possessions.
Oldies tunes played by members of the Over the Hill Gang as well as Flashback, which performed live 50s and 60s music from the main stage, provided the evening’s backdrop as more than 5,000 people came out to celebrate the start of summer.
“We lucked out immensely with the weather,” said Cathy Duncan, event organizer for the Chamber. “We watched the weather closely and saw that there would be a passing shower in the afternoon and it looked clear after that…and it was. The rain shower was over by 3:30 p.m. The Chamber phones rang off their hooks with people calling to see if it was raining here. Yes, the weather did affect the attendance. We were down about 200 cars from last year. If the weather had been clear, we estimate this would have been a record-breaking event for attendance. The people who did attend were glad they did.”
Chamber President Larry McHugh echoed Duncan’s sentiments. “The 17th Annual Cruise Night on Main was a major success. This was once again a terrific event that attracted thousands of people to downtown Middletown.
“I would like to thank the City of Middletown, our sponsors and everyone who worked to make the 17th Annual Cruise Night on Main a success. We are already looking forward to next year.”
The evening raised over $2,000 to benefit Middletown’s Mentor Program and other city youth programs including recreation and summer youth programs.Among the cars that drew their share of attention were a classic 1972 Jensen Interceptor III from the UK; a candy apple red 1964 ½ Ford Mustang, an iconic American muscle car; a 1929 Mercedes; and a 1947 Crosley sedan owned by Seb Fontana from Rocky Hill. A pair of Middletown vehicles – Tom and Marsha Judson’s 1964 yellow Minivan and Sal Vernale’s rare 1967 Chevy Camaro SS – also proved to be crowd pleasers. The Minivan’s 10” wheels and walnut dashboard caused more than a few double takes. The Camaro, one of just 1,138 two-door sport coupes built, sporting an original window sticker with a price of $4,544.30.
The very busy Wayne Carini, who hosts “Chasing Classic Cars” on Velocity TV and owns F40 Motorsports, a vintage and classic car dealership, and Carini Carozzeria, a restoration shop, both in Portland, showcased a couple of his favorites. His 1933 Beezymobile (also known as The Louis Special) was built in Santa Monica in 1947 and has raced at Bonneville (1947-48) and Pebble Beach (1950-56). Carini’s green 1970 Plymouth Barracuda received the Liberty’s Choice Award, presented by Liberty Bank.Josh Wilcox and Sarah Massicott of Higganum enjoyed some people watching and local fare while sitting in the back of his 1979 Chevy El Camino.
“I found the car on Craigslist when I was 15 and jumped right on it. I replaced the whole interior, changed the engine to a 350ci instead of a 305ci and put on new tires and rims. The car had about 60,000 miles. I’ve put on about 9,000.
“My friends and I were at lunch one day and we were tossing around names for the car. We came up with ‘Loretta.’ I’ve brought ‘Loretta’ to this show every year since I could drive, which is four years. I’m having fun with the car and I plan on keeping her forever.”
Middletown’s Sal and Lucy Branciforte took home the AAA Diamond Award for their 1956 sunset orange Chevy Bel Air. “We’ve owned the car for two weeks,” Sal said. “This is the third car show we’ve entered and the third trophy we’ve won. I saw a photo of the car and then asked two friends out in Phoenix, AZ, to look at it for me. I had it shipped out and delivered to Jackson Chevrolet.”People were drawn to Francis Saunders and his1938 Chevrolet truck. “My dad bought this truck back in the 1970s. It was listed as a V6 truck in Hemmings Motor News. Dad knew Chevy didn’t make a V6 then so he had to go take a look. A fellow had passed away and the widow was selling it dirt cheap in Deep River. Dad bought it, brought it home, got it running and used it for many years as a dump truck.
“After dad passed away, the truck sat out in the backyard for about 18 years. Then the rat rod craze came around and I said, ‘That truck would make a neat rat rod,’ so that’s what I did. I cleaned it up and started building it. It took about nine months,” continued Saunders, who lives in Old Lyme and belongs to the Beachcombers of Niantic Car Club. “It’s still on its original chassis but it’s got a 1977 El Camino drive train. I put the casket on the back just because I like being different. The casket also holds the truck’s gas tank.
“This is the fifth year it’s been on the road and I’ve put on almost 11,000 miles. I drive it all the time and have a lot of fun with it. So many people drive down the highway, look over at me and give me thumbs up. I don’t have to worry about it getting scratched or someone putting their hands on it. Kids can get up on the running board and look inside.”Mitchell Wynn, who came to Connecticut on vacation to visit his older brother in 1992 and decided to stay in Middletown, brought his beautifully prepared MBS Racing 1977 Ford Mustang II, which he built with help from his sons, Mitch and Marquay. Wynn has been a pastor at Mount Olive Church of Christ on South Main Street for 16 years. After God, his other passion is drag racing. “I was born and raised in drag racing. My grandfather, my dad, my aunts and my uncles all had muscle cars in North Carolina.”
He recently took the car to New York’s Lebanon Valley Dragway to run it for the first time. The Mustang laid down a 10.5-second pass with the promise of dipping into the nines after a little tweaking of the set up. “It felt real good. It reminds me of riding a horse when the horse is loping. A horse is a bumpy ride, but when you get that horse into a full sprint, it smoothes out and rides good.”
The Mustang is propelled down the quarter mile strip by a 302ci Ford motor that has been stroked out to 347ci. The engine produces 730hp and runs on 110 octane race fuel.
“One of my brothers told me today, ‘You’re supposed to be a man of God and you’re into racing. You need God to ride in this car,’” said Wynn.
Liberty’s Choice Award presented by Liberty Bank – Wayne Carini/F40 Motor Sport, Portland, 1970 Plymouth Barracuda.
Apple Rehab Choice Award presented by Apple Rehab – Peter Tytila, East Lyme, 1934 Ford 3-Window Coupe.
AAA Diamond Award presented by AAA Allied Group/Cromwell – Sal Branciforte, Middletown, 1956 Chevy Bel Air.
MHCC Choice Award presented by Middletown Health Care Center – Ray Piotrowski, Middletown, 1937 Chevy Sedan.
Street Legal Award presented by Haymond Law – Russ Bosse, Berlin, 1969 Chevy Chevelle.
Mayor’s Choice Award presented by Mayor Dan Drew – Vin LaBella, Berlin, 1933 Ford Coupe.
Sparkling Clean Award presented by Servpro of Middletown and New Britain – Ted Chowaniec, Wallingford, 1961 Chevy C-10 truck.
Veteran’s Choice Award presented by Jackson Chevrolet – Shiela Siena, Middletown, 1978 Chevy El Camino.
Main Drag Award presented by Downtown Business District – Herb Caso, Cromwell, 1936 852 Auburn.